TORONTO (July 19) — I can tell you, without equivocation, that you’ll never meet a nicer, more cordial and pleasant backstabber than Ron MacLean. The first three adjectives are mine; the latter, a non–stop, prodigious and largely inexplicable sentiment amid television viewers in our country that once threatened to boycott Hockey Night In Canada during a salary squabble between MacLean and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). This fall from grace is unlike anything in the modern history of sports media. In fact, it is nothing shy of a phenomenon.
There is, of course, no application of logic or reason to the scourge of social media, from which nearly all of the MacLean vitriol originates. Nothing in life is easier than firing darts at another person behind the veil of anonymity. Which is no–less virulent, in our society, than the recent COVID–19 pandemic. Ron has been pilloried, far and wide, for his apparent betrayal of Don Cherry on Nov. 20, 2019, when he disavowed the remarks made by Cherry, 24 hours earlier, about immigrants to Canada and their refusal to wear a poppy in observation of Remembrance Day. That Cherry uttered the now–infamous term “you people” while addressing his TV audience provided Rogers Communications an excuse to fire the national icon, thereby ending a nearly 40–year run for the most–watched seven minutes in the history of Canadian television. Coach’s Corner, the first–period intermission staple, ended on the spot. So, too, would have MacLean’s unparalleled career as host of Hockey Night… and just about anything else asked of him within the industry. It was no coincidence, for example, that Ron also anchored the annual National Hockey League Awards telecast, or was on the ice to emcee the closing ceremony after the final hockey game (Feb. 13, 1999) at Maple Leaf Gardens. He, too, is a national icon and would have disappeared from our TV screens without “apologizing” to viewers across the land for Cherry’s outburst the previous night. Rogers’ executives held a figurative gun to MacLean’s head: either repudiate Cherry or take a one–way stroll with the coach.
MacLean, wanting to continue providing for his family, made a heart–rending choice. It immediately ended his brother–like friendship with Cherry and, to this day, the unqualified adoration of hockey fans from coast to coast.
The difference, of course, between MacLean and the snot–rags that excoriate without fear of being identified is that Ron rendered his atonement on a telecast beamed from St. John’s to Victoria. Given Cherry’s gargantuan acclaim, he understood there would be fallout, personally and professionally. But, MacLean put his family first… and did so on live television in front of nearly three million viewers — far unlike those that cower behind Twitter handles. Nothing is quite so simple as taking out one’s anger and unfulfilling life amid the “protection” of social media.
MacLean, on Tuesday, made it known through a Tweet by John Shannon that he’ll be returning as host of Hockey Night this October… in discordance of a blog I wrote last week that suggested otherwise. The news actually warmed my heart; as I expressed in the blog, I’m hoping for Ron to go out on his terms, not anyone else’s. But, ask me if I trust the unconscionable boobs that sit atop the ivory tower at Rogers’ headquarters (or Bell Media, for that matter) and you’ll get a different answer. These money first moguls aren’t in the habit of warning employees about the bloodlettings that occur two or three times per year. You merely come to work, unsuspectingly, and are told to go home; occasionally, also, that your media outlet no longer exists. So, I’m hoping Ron was accurate. Kevin Bieksa, too. The person that told me of potential changes at Hockey Night has a long and distinguished tenure in Canadian media; a well–connected individual that every sports viewer in the land would instantly recognize.
After Shannon’s Tweet (from a charity golf event) that MacLean would be returning, Postmedia (Toronto Sun) put up a story, without a byline, that contradicted a “Toronto–based blogger” (thanks, guys, for the recognition of 23 years in radio 😛 ). I post the link, here https://bit.ly/3rrUhJG, not because of that, but rather for the boorish comments at the bottom about MacLean; remarks that are sadly consistent with the 3½–year tirade against the long–time host of Saturday night hockey (there have been only four in my lifetime: Ward Cornell from 1959–71; Dave Hodge from 1971–86; MacLean from 1986–2014, then 2016–today; George Stroumboulopoulos from 2014–16). It is quite the exclusive company and no person has occupied the role even half as long as MacLean. Waiting in the wings, at some point, are David Amber and Jeff Marek, both of whom do exceptional work for Rogers Media.
MacLean has been offered numerous chances — including several by yours truly — to fire back at his unnamed detractors, but continues to take the high road and internalize the remarkable anguish he must feel each day. He once told me “mine is a story that will go to my grave; the dignity of too many people depends on it.” Of course, “dignity” is a word unfamiliar to those who rip MacLean (and others) anonymously. The social media warthogs aren’t sufficiently introspective to pause and recognize the harm their words engender. Teeing off namelessly is all that can make such people — for a few moments, anyway — feel good about themselves. So, it doesn’t register that they routinely subject Ron to the kind of venom and hostility reserved for a rapist or pedophile. In a world where everyone has a pulpit (however minute), there is no inclination toward perspective. Just outright stupidity.